Despite shelling, Lee open to North summit

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Despite shelling, Lee open to North summit

Despite a shelling exercise by the North in the Yellow Sea, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak again expressed his willingness to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il at any time to discuss the reclusive regime’s nuclear arms program.

“I am always ready to meet with Chairman Kim Jong-il,” Lee said in his interview with BBC, referring to the North Korean leader with his official title, the chairman of National Defense Commission. “But the meeting would have to be for fruitful dialogue and sufficient discussion about the North’s nuclear issues. We must have open minds for reconciliation and cooperation between the two Koreas. If the summit can be helpful for the Korean Peninsula’s peace and the settlement of the nuclear crisis, there is no reason for me not to meet him even within this year.”

The interview took place on Thursday in Davos, Switzerland, where Lee attended the World Economic Forum. The Blue House released the transcript of the interview yesterday.

Lee’s comments came as media speculation increased that an inter-Korean summit is being planned for this year. While there were reports about high-level contacts between the two Koreas in Singapore at the end of last year, the South Korean government has not confirmed or denied such contacts. The Blue House tried yesterday to downplay further media speculation. “What Lee said was a reiteration of his fundamental position that an inter-Korean summit is possible if conditions are met,” said Lee Dong-kwan, senior secretary for public affairs. “It has been Lee’s philosophy that he won’t just have the summit for a photo opportunity without a substantial outcome.”

The two liberal presidents of South Korea - Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun - traveled to Pyongyang during their terms in 2000 and 2007, respectively, and met with Kim. The two rounds of summits were focused on economic cooperation. The nuclear crisis was not addressed.

According to the transcript, Lee said the North’s latest barrage of gunfire near the inter-Korean maritime border in the Yellow Sea constitutes an “inappropriate threat.” He said the North probably did so because it felt pressured to return to the six-nation nuclear disarmament talks or because it came up with a new strategy to sign a peace treaty to replace the current Korean War armistice.

“It may also be an attempt to pressure the South for inter-Korean dialogue,” Lee said. “No matter what the reasons are, it’s never a good idea.”

Lee said the North has kept its past tactic of stalling the international community’s efforts to end the country’s nuclear programs by pretending to engage in talks and seeking economic aid with no real intention to give up atomic weapons. “I, however, believe the North’s tactic will no longer be effective in the international community,” the president said.

Lee said he sees no immediate sign of the North’s collapse, although the South still needs to prepare for the worst scenario. Lee also defended Defense Minister Kim Tae-young’s comments that South Korea would launch a pre-emptive attack if the North prepared a nuclear attack.


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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대통령, BBC 회견 …‘연내’시점 거론한 것은 처음/ 여권 관계자 “이르면 6월 지방선거 전 정상회담 할 수도”



스위스 다보스에서 열린 세계경제포럼(다보스 포럼)에 참석 중인 이명박 대통령은 28일(현지시간) 남북 정상회담과 관련, “조만간이라고 단정 지어 말할 수는 없지만 아마 연내에 (김정일 북한 국방위원장을) 만날 수 있을 것 같다고 본다”고 말했다. 이 대통령이 남북 정상회담과 관련해 ‘연내’라는 시점을 거론한 것은 처음이다.

이 대통령은 영국 BBC방송과의 회견에서 “김 위원장을 만날 준비가 항상 돼 있다. 그러나 유익한 대화를 해야 하고, 북핵 문제를 놓고 충분한 이야기를 할 수 있어야 한다”며 이같이 말했다.

특히 이 대통령은 “양측 간의 화해와 협력을 위해선 열린 마음으로 사전에 만나는 데 대한 조건이 없어야 한다”며 “그렇게 되면 언제든지 만날 수 있다”고 덧붙였다. 지난해 11월 27일 대통령과의 대화 때만 해도 이 대통령은 “북한 핵을 포기시키는 게 선결 과제”라며 “인도주의적 입장에서 국군포로, 납치 문제 등을 풀어나갈 수 있다면 만날 수 있다”고 말해 남북 정상회담을 위한 3대 원칙을 언급했었다.

이 대통령의 발언과 관련, 정부 고위 관계자는 “BBC의 원론적인 질문에 이 대통령이 적극적인 답변을 한 것은 남북 정상회담에 대한 관심이 그만큼 크다는 뜻”이라며 “오는 11월 서울에서 열릴 주요 20개국(G20) 정상회의 전에 이 대통령과 김 위원장이 만날 가능성도 있다”고 말했다

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